What Cheerleaders Contribute
Lyndhurst, NJ - As a writer for Eastern Basketball magazine, the better part of over two decades, I always maintained an appreciation for contributions cheerleaders give to the game. These young men and women, represent their schools, not only during time outs, but in regional and national competitions in many cases. "They dont deserve a varsity letter...thats not a sport..cheerleading is tough, are you kidding ?" The skeptics raved on and do so today. How unfortunate. Again, my belief is that students participating in cheerleading are putting in an inordinate amount of time, energy, talent and dedication. Varsity letters and any other awards are richly deserved.
Two years ago I was covering the ECAC Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. Hofstra was in the field and at halftime their nationally ranked dance team performed. After their performance the team sat in an area near press row and I noticed on their warmup sweatshirts they had a slogan regarding their work ethic. Slogans are common on players garb but not as much, so I thought, on that of a dance team or cheerleading squad. Asked a few of the team members and their coach Tracy Perlman, and wound up giving them a mention in Eastern Basketball.
This past December, it was the same event. Hofstra is in the field again. The dance team is there with their warmups proclaiming no scrapes, no bruises, no proof. Rutgers was also in the field, and had their dance team, so I decided to give equal time. Focus on the slogan and its meaning and write up both squads from the angle of the Holiday Festival having two ranked teams. Which ,technically, they did.
Interviewing members of Rutgers and Hofstras respective dance teams, and their coaches, I found out how really hard these team members work. Tracy Petro, a Hofstra senior co-captain, told how tough her coach Tracy Perlman can be. Tracy, Petro that is, did say it with a smile. Petro also told of a regimen of, "three hour practices about every day each week as a team." And the slogan bearing out that ,"anyone who questions how hard we work should check out the bruises on our knees."
Christin OHare a freshman dance team member spoke of practices about five days a week as a team and an off day, from team practice, "where we lift weights and/or run for forty minutes."
Clearly the life of a dance team member is a lot more than putting on a uniform, applying makeup and doing some pre-game stretching exercises to limber up.
Dedication , I found, doesnt stop with the athletes. Perlman and her Rutgers peers, coaches Emily OConnell and Christine Zoffinger are dedicated coaches, constantly drilling their squads and searching for the latest innovations, while maintaining full time jobs. No major sneaker contracts, six figure salaries, tv shows or the like for these coaches. Still, they maintain a fierce dedication and outstanding work ethic that is channeled to their team.
Donna Pluta, who cheered at UMASS during their glory days, and is a 96 grad of the Amherst school, coaches the Manhattan cheerleaders. Frequently practices start at 9:00 in the evening as she too balances the demands of coaching and the 9 to 5 life.
But that seems to be the common thread among squad members and coaches I had the chance to talk to. They have a definite passion for their sport. Hard work behind the scenes in practice. Taking risks - think going airborne or catching someone who just was is easy ? Trips to camp, yes cheerleading camps are common and growing in popularity for those dedicated and hoping to improve. National competition for cheerleading and dance teams in the Spring. And of course there is that genuine love for their chosen athletic endeavor.
At the NCAA East Regionals, Hannah Gomez, a member of USCs Song Girls, took the time to explain how their name came about. "We are song girls," the personable junior from Orange County, California said. "We cheer but dance also. Its (a song girl) a combination of cheerleader and dance team member."
Cheerleader, dance team member, Song Girl...They all are a part of the pageantry of basketball. They all are highly conditioned athletes that work hard and deserve respect and recognition for putting forth that effort.
Hey, I wouldnt mind a no scrapes, no bruises, no proof sweatshirt myself.
Personal biography of Ray Floriani - I write for Eastern Basketball Magazine (24 yrs) cover the college scene. Contribute to college insider (www.collegeinsider.com) and Basketball times online (www.basketballtimes.com). Married, live in Lyndhurst, NJ.